Mr. Hanger's Change of Heart
VIRGINIA STATE Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta) has had a remarkable change of heart, for which we must apparently credit his son's fiancee. Until recently Mr. Hanger, who represents a slice of the Shenandoah Valley, was just another Republican lawmaker who had no time or sympathy for the plight of illegal immigrants. He wanted, for instance, to deny illegal aliens in-state tuition rates at Virginia's colleges and universities, even if they'd lived their whole lives in the state. Then along came his son's fiancee, an immigrant from the Philippines who recently got U.S. citizenship, and presto! Mr. Hanger has amended his own bill to extend the reduced-tuition benefit to undocumented students as long as they graduated from a Virginia high school, are pursuing legal residency and belong to families that have paid income taxes for at least three years.
What a shame there aren't more Virginia legislators whose lives or families have been touched by the state's 720,000 foreign-born residents, who include perhaps 200,000 without legal documents. If there were, maybe Virginia's legislature wouldn't be the hot spot for immigrant-bashing that it has become.
For a second straight year the House of Delegates has approved a slew of bills designed to harass and hassle undocumented residents without bothering to explain why the state should expend time and money doing the federal government's job of enforcing immigration laws. This year's crop of bills includes a measure to exclude undocumented students from public institutions of higher education and another (like Mr. Hanger's original legislation in the Senate) to deny them in-state tuition. Never mind if they've lived here since age 2, the effect is to punish children for the acts of their parents. There is a bill that essentially turns state police officers into immigration agents. Never mind that the police don't want to do it. Yet another would require the motor vehicles department to supply state elections officials with the names of licensed non-citizens so that they would be excluded from voting. Never mind that there's no reason to think that they do vote.
If there were any evidence that illegal immigrants in Virginia were displacing Americans in the state's colleges and universities, or preoccupying the state's police, or tipping state elections through their cunning ways at the ballot box, it's a sure bet that anti-immigrant state lawmakers would broadcast it loud and long. But there is no such evidence. Naturally, none of these bills, if they became law, would have the slightest impact on the genuine national dilemma of illegal immigration. But they would play to that segment of the electorate animated by nativism, chauvinism and xenophobia.
Chances are good that the state Senate, where cooler heads prevail, will direct these bullying bills to oblivion, where they belong. Barring that, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) will certainly veto them. In the meantime, the effect of the legislation is to create for Virginia a brutish, nasty image that it does not deserve.